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Bright Star(1819)

John Keats

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art–
MeterBright star, would I were steadfast as thou art–

Note on line 1: Although ordinarily personal pronouns go unstressed, here we stress “I” and “thou” because Keats has built the entire sonnet on articulating the relation, and the difference, between the two (himself and the star). Lines 2-8 elaborate one way of being “steadfast,” attractive yet declined finally in favor of the way described in the rest of the poem. The distinctly emphasized pronouns of line 1 set the whole contrast up.

Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
MeterNot in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
MeterAnd watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
MeterLike nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
MeterThe moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
MeterOf pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
MeterOr gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors–
MeterOf snow upon the mountains and the moors–
No–yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
MeterNo–yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
MeterPillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
MeterTo feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
MeterAwake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
MeterStill, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever–or else swoon to death.
MeterAnd so live ever–or else swoon to death.

Note on line 14: This line may be scanned several different ways, with stress e. g. on “else” or even “or” (though not both!). The scansion preferred here highlights the swooniness of the death wish — a second-best alternative at which Keats (a dying man when he wrote this sonnet) snatches, as doubts about immortality assail him at the caesura after “live ever.” A little melodramatic, perhaps, but consistent with the poem’s manifest preference for sensation over detached, dispassionate intellection.


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